Patient Education: Health Risks of Obesity (The Basics)

What does it mean to be obese?

Doctors use a special measure called body mass index (BMI) to decide who is underweight, healthy, overweight, or obese. A person with obesity weighs significantly more than they should at their height.

Your BMI will tell you whether your weight is appropriate for your height.

  • If your BMI is between 25 and 29.9, you are overweight.
  • If your BMI is 30 or greater, you are obese.

Obesity is a problem because it increases the risks of many different health problems. It can also make it hard for you to move, breathe, and do other things that those at a healthy weight can do easily. Plus, having obesity can be hard emotionally, since it can make you feel ashamed or like you don’t fit in.

What are the health risks of obesity?

Having obesity increases a person’s risk of developing many health problems, such as:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease (including heart attacks)
  • Stroke
  • Sleep apnea
  • Asthma
  • Cancer

Does having obesity shorten a person’s life?

Yes. Studies show that people with obesity die younger than those at a healthy weight. They also show that the risk of death goes up the heavier a person is. The degree of this risk depends on how long a person has been risked and what other medical problems they have.

People with central obesity might also be at a risk of dying younger. Central obesity is when someone carries extra weight in the belly area, even if their BMI is normal.

Should I see my Primary Care Provider?

Yes. If you are overweight or obese, you can talk to your provider, as they may have suggestions on ways for you to lose weight. It can also help to work with a dietician (a food and nutrition expert). A dietician can help you choose healthy food plans and meals.

Are there medical treatments that can help me lose weight?

Yes. There are medicines and surgeries that can help with weight loss, but these treatments are reserved for people who have not been able to lose weight through lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. People who utilize these treatments must also change their diet and activity levels in order to maintain and maximize their positive effects.

What can I do to prevent the problems caused by obesity?

The obvious answer is that you can lose weight, but even if weight loss is not possible, you can improve your health and reduce your risk if you:

  • Become more active – Many types of physical activity can help, including walking. You can add a few minutes a day and add more as you get stronger and build up your endurance.
  • Improve your diet – It is healthy to have regular meal times, eat smaller portions, and not skip meals. Avoid sweets and processed foods and eat more fruits and vegetables instead.
  • Quit smoking – Some people start eating more after they quit, so try to make healthy food choices. Even if it increases your appetite, quitting smoking is still one of the best things you can do for your health.
  • Limit alcohol – Drink no more than 1 drink a day if you are a woman and no more than 2 drinks a day if you are a man.

What causes obesity?

The thing that increases a person’s risk the most is having an unhealthy lifestyle. Most people develop obesity because they eat too much, eat unhealthy foods, and move too little. This is especially true of people who watch too much TV, but there are other things that can increase the risk of obesity that many people don’t know about, such as:

  • Mom’s habits during and after pregnancy – People who eat a lot of calories, have diabetes, or smoke during pregnancy have a higher risk of having children who become obese as adults. Also, formula-fed babies may be more likely to develop obesity later in life.
  • Habits and weight gain during childhood – Overweight and obese children and teens are more likely to become adults with obesity.
  • Sleeping too little – People who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to develop obesity than those who sleep enough.
  • Taking certain medicines – Long-term use of certain medicines, such as some anti-depressants, can cause weight gain. If you are concerned that one of your medicines might be making you gain weight, talk to your doctor or nurse.
  • Certain hormonal conditions – Some hormonal problems can increase the risk of developing obesity. For example, a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome can cause weight gain, along with other symptoms like irregular periods. However, hormonal conditions only account for a small portion of cases of obesity.

What if I want children?

If you want to have children, you should know that obesity can make it harder for a woman to get pregnant. It can also impair a man’s ability to have sex, especially if he has high blood pressure or diabetes. What’s more, children born to Barents with obesity have a high risk of developing obesity themselves.

What if my child has obesity?

In children, obesity has many of the same risks as it does for adults. For example, it can increase the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, and sleep apnea. It can also cause added problems related to childhood. For example, obesity can make children grow faster than normal and can speed up sexual development in girls.